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Heat is on for Parliament in 2013

Andisiwe Makinana

The legislature faces a busy year, with laws from secrecy to e-tolling facing active opposition, writes Andisiwe Makinana.

Many issues await Parliament's reopening in February, including the passing of some controversial legislation. (David Harrison, M&G)

All eyes were on Parliament late last year, as South Africans waited to see whether the courts would compel the house to schedule a debate on the motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.

Yet it was just one event among many in a dramatic year characterised by heated debates in which some MPs were expelled or walked out of the legislature, raising questions regarding the rules of Parliament and resulting in an unprecedented number of court challenges against the institution.

Parliament reopens on February 14, when Zuma will deliver his State of the Nation address.

It is expected to pass a number of laws this year, chief among them the controversial Protection of State Information Bill, which has been in the making for years.

The proposed law, aimed at regulating the classification of state secrets, has faced stiff opposition from the media, civil society and opposition parties, as well as the ANC's alliance partner Cosatu.

Another proposed law is the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill, which was withdrawn at the last minute from a debate in the house in November last year. Among other things, the Bill deals with the proposed tolling of Gauteng's freeways.

Inadequate consultation
Opposition parties and members of civil society opposed to e-tolling say the government should pursue alternative models available to fund the required infrastructure expansion.

They also accuse Parliament's transport portfolio committee of trying to ram the Bill through the legislature with inadequate consultation and public participation. They want the committee to reconsider submissions and send the Bill to the National Council of Provinces for further processing.

Public protector Thuli Madonsela is also looking to the legislature to clear her name and that of her office.

Parliament's committee on justice, which conducts oversight over the public protector, will continue its probe into an anonymous complaint of maladministration and irregularities against Madonsela and some of her senior staff.

With land restitution set to be high on the government's agenda this year, Parliament will also play a key role in drafting legislation.

It has to establish the office of the land valuer general, which is proposed in the green paper on land reform and which was approved by Cabinet in November.

Equitable
With the willing-buyer, willing-seller principle now discarded, the valuergeneral would decide the "equitable" price for land.

Also expected this year is a flurry of new Bills, following the Constitutional Court ruling in favour of Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Ambrosini last year that allows any MP to introduce a Bill in Parliament. The Democratic Alliance has already announced its intentions to introduce a number of new Bills this year. Previously, an MP needed permission from the majority of National Assembly members before being allowed to introduce a Bill in Parliament. This made it almost impossible for members of the opposition to introduce new Bills.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said Parliament appeared to be under pressure in 2012 and he expected more of the same this year.

Mathekga said the tension was not owed to a lack of clarity on rules, but rather to the attitude of political parties themselves.

"I expect the same tension, with the opposition parties pushing and the ANC using its majority to block them. In terms of substance, there will not be anything new or more than what we got last year," he said.

Mathekga expects ANC MPs to rally behind Zuma to a greater extent than they did before the party's elective conference in Mangaung last month. This is because of the overwhelming support and renewed mandate he received from delegates, and the national elections due in 2014.


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